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Pay attention: The real currency in real estate

By Adrian Knowles
15 March 2024 | 12 minute read
adrian knowles harcourts bridge reb km03yn

In a world where access to information is often touted as the great equaliser, it’s time to offer a counter-narrative: knowledge isn’t free.

Not in real estate, where every square metre is soaked in the history, whispers, and sometimes, the cries of what it has seen. As a new agent, I thought my job was to talk – to pitch, to explain, and eventually, to close. But I quickly learnt that the real currency in this industry isnt charm or even experience, its something simpler and yet infinitely more complex: the art of paying attention.

The whispering walls

Every property has a story, etched into its very foundations. If you listen, really listen, everything – the creak of the floorboards, the lilt of sunlight through the windows, the chill that descends in certain corners – it all begins to speak to you. These are the tales that will keep you awake at night and drive you forward during the day. From the high-rise flat with a heart-rending view to the family-sized bungalow that seems to hold every laugh and tear from a former life, the properties I dealt with each had a voice. They spoke in a language of rust and paint, of brick and carpet, of the dreams and decisions that echo through their halls.

The vendor’s tale

The vendor, that all-knowing sage, is the first storyteller you encounter. They bring their own emotions, life experiences and aspirations for the future into each conversation. As an agent, your duty is to be the bridge between their narrative and the one inherent in the property. To do that, you must learn to speak less and listen more. One listing took me several restless nights to understand. The vendor was an elderly woman, moving to be closer to her children. Despite the crumbling plaster and the musty scent of the once-grand sitting room, she saw only the beauty of a lifetime’s worth of memories.

The buyer’s vision

Then, there’s the buyer, freshly enrolled in the school of life decisions. They come to the viewing with hopes, dreams and a checklist as long as the Murray. Some want to recreate their childhood sanctuaries; others seek the blank canvas of a bachelor pad. Its in these conversations that I remember just how powerful presence and attentive listening are. One young couple refused to consider anything that didnt have a garden – not just for the future, but to tend to today, as an escape from the citys relentless pace.


The cost of distraction

In my earlier, more brash days, I would enter a property with a plan and a pitch, barely registering the stories the walls murmured. It cost me a cherished listing once. An expansive Victorian townhouse with the potential to become a haven for the vendor and his large family was marred by budget constraints, hasty assumptions, and my lack of attention to the subtle cues from the ageing walls. As a result, my listings were sparse, and my advice was suspect. It became clear that knowledge is a form of currency, but it’s not mined from databases or Excel spreadsheets. It’s paid for with attention.

Investing in listening

So, I started a new chapter in my lifes book of listings. Every day, I learn to invest in the currency of listening. I discovered that a buyers budget may not dictate their happiness, that a sellers final sale holds the weight of their history, and that, in between, I must tread carefully, engaging not only with my clients but with the homes themselves. When I learnt to hear what theyre saying, I could translate that into a language the other parties could understand, crafting a narrative that isnt just about property, but about people and the places they call home.

The takeaway

My offer to my colleagues and those just starting, is to pause. Stop. And truly listen to the properties and the people bound up inside them. For those in the industry, and especially for new real estate professionals, this isnt just another skill to hone; its a form of empathy that cant be faked, spun, or contrived. Pay attention to the transactions in your life. Every exchange, every story carries its weight of knowledge and insight – understanding that is a fee we should never seek to waive.

Out in the real estate arena, everything speaks. Its time we pay closer attention to every word.

Motto: Think it through, then follow through.

Adrian Knowles is the CEO of Harcourts Australia.

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